20 November 2017

Interview with North London Chorus’ Musical Director, Murray Hipkin

We caught up with Murray Hipkin, the Musical Director of North London Chorus, to find out more about their concert at Shoreditch Town Hall on Saturday 25 November.

Saturday night in London, there are so many gigs screaming for my attention, what makes yours special?
It’s a unique opportunity to see two excellent choirs come together to sing rarely performed choral music with a professional orchestra and a trio of international soloists.

I thought NLC doesn’t often venture out of North London so why STH?
Well, it’s almost North London! There is a real shortage of local venues large enough to accommodate a choir of 120 voices and an orchestra. We try and put on a concert in Central London every couple of years, so when we were searching for possible venues we were delighted to come across Shoreditch Town Hall which seems perfect for us – I love its Victorian grandeur and history. Now that it’s established itself as an arts, events and community space, I hope that NLC will become a regular part of the musical scene in Shoreditch.

How did the collaboration with Contrapunto come about?
NLC recently agreed to organise a choir exchange every three years. In 2013-14 we collaborated with a choir from Berlin in Britten’s War Requiem, and later, when they came to London, Ein deutsches Requiem by Brahms. One of our members has a friend in Zurich-based Contrapunto so she suggested that we approach them to see whether we could work together. We did, and the first stage of the partnership was a wonderful concert in Zurich last weekend (Saturday 11t November) in which we performed the same programme. Singing brings us together, but these exchanges are about much more that. I am hoping that we can match their generous hospitality and give them a great and memorable trip and concert.

How do you go about choosing a concert programme and why did you end up with this?
We wanted to build a programme that would include one piece by an English composer, because Contrapunto actually specialise in English repertoire. At some point someone had suggested Mendelssohn’s dramatic cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht. NLC have sung a lot of Mendelssohn but never this, so I looked into it and realised that it was perfect for the occasion. We’ll be singing it in German but there’s a full translation in the programme booklet. The story centres around a trick played in the forest at night by a group of Druids who successfully scare off a group of Christians who are trying to disrupt their traditional rituals. This led me back to look into possible English pieces and I remembered Vaughan Williams, and his cantata In Windsor Forest, which in a lovely parallel also includes a scene where Falstaff is scared out of his wits in the forest by a group of townspeople. I then added an orchestral piece, Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, which features the devil playing a violin, and the conductor of Contrapunto, Beat Dähler, has composed a new cantata to celebrate the coming together of the choirs, Byzantium, to a text by Yeats.

As a professional musician how do you find working with amateurs?
I prefer to say “volunteers” as “amateur” is a word that is these days slightly coloured by expectations of mediocrity. I’m very demanding, I have high expectations which I try to encourage my choirs to share, and they seem to like that! It can be frustrating of course – any teacher will tell you that (and about 60% of the job is teaching) – but the thrill of enabling people who may not have had the training or even very much experience to take part in such an uplifting communal act of music-making more than makes up for that. They inspire me. I hope I do the same for them.

To book for North London Chorus’ performance, click here

Lead image credit: David Winter / Contrapunto

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